George, 22, graduated from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley with a double major in Business Administration and Economics in 2010. During his undergrad, he went on exchange to Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, Italy.
But George had ambitions to move to China, the country he thinks offers incredible opportunities for young professionals as it contunues to grow at breakneck speed. He also knew he wanted to work in finance, and the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF) was established in 2009 with the express purpose of training China's future financial leaders.
SAIF is part of prestigious Jiao Tong University, the Harvard of China, and offers both a finance-focused full-time MBA, and a Master of Finance.
We caught up with George, as the two-year Master programme was coming to an end to find out how he feels about his decision to study at SAIF. He had a lot to say about living and studying in Shanghai, including some great recommendations of fun places to hang out in the city!
What motivated you to want to launch your career in China?
This will sound like a cliche as most people say that its got a bright future, but it really does. My parents are originally from Taiwan and I still have relatives living there and they encouraged me to try things out.
When I graduated in 2010, job prospects in North America and in Europe were not looking appealing. I wanted a chance to be able to enter into the work market but I didn’t have the right network or connections so I decided to come to China as a student. SAIF has given me a chance to adjust to life here and a platform to base my career in this region and abroad.
Can you tell us something about SAIF that outsiders are unlikely to know?
The academic culture is something I had to get used to. Every one studies so hard and my classmates are super-smart and hardworking. I found it hard to adjust to because it was challenging to organize extracurricular activities. As we settled in, we organized some sports activities like soccer and basketball, poker nights and trips to nearby cities.
Another thing is that you really get a chance to practice your language skills. I’m now fluent in Mandarin. Even though we spoke it at home, being surrounded by people you can speak it with in different capabilities helps. The University also has language classes for foreign students so a lot of the international students were fluent or half-fluent by the end of the year.
What are your favourite and less favourite things about living in Shanghai?
The things I love about the city are the architecture, which has British and French influences, the cheapness of cabs, cheapness of food delivery. Cheapness of life in general compared to other major world cities. Shanghai is a very cosmopolitan city and is very fun to live in but of course you have to deal with things like the traffic, bad drivers, pollution, and slow internet.
Can you recommend any restaurants and bars?
Bar Rouge is a great spot. Its a French-style club and one of my classmates, a Swedish guy is the resident DJ and always plays fantastic music. Hollywood is another great place. The owner is from Milan so it has that Italian club vibe. There are also many other chain clubs in the city like G Plus and M2.
For restaurants, there are many nice places along the Bund which are slightly up market but you’ll also find very diverse cuisine around streets in the main shopping areas.
Do you have any internships or work experience lined up for the summer?
I actually have a job offer from Thomson Reuters to join its graduate business development programme this fall. I found the role on our careers website and I applied for it. I know the SAIF careers councillors have been helpful throughout the job application phase usually making introductions and recommending us to companies.
On the graduate programme I’ll get to try my hands at Sales, Operations, and Marketing projects. I’ll be based in New York City for the first year before moving back to Shanghai. I can’t join the Shanghai office straight away because the working visa requirements in China ask for two years of work experience in the industry you want to enter.
What are you going to miss most about SAIF when you graduate?
Friends, classmates, professors that have helped me, the class feeling and the learning environment. Most of my colleagues will be heading off to Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing and other major Asian cities for jobs. I’m really going to miss Shanghai even though I know I’m coming back.
Right now, I’m getting ready to defend my final thesis and after that enjoy the gap month we have off before graduation in late June. My family will be visiting so I’ll be here soaking up the city life.